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The sixth episode of Game of Thrones could technically be called the climax of the first season, it’s all falling action from here on out. For a summation of the plot without much spoiling, head over to Susan Arendt’s recap , but if you’re a fan of the books and want more in-depth, spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in “A Golden Crown,” read on, my friends!

The cinematography of the sweeping vistas, the art direction that’s created costumes and props that feel right at home in the Seven Kingdoms, the excellent performances from Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and Mark Addy, these are what people are going to talk about in regards to Game of Thrones for years to come. But for me, as a big fan of the books written by George R. R. Martin, what the HBO series absolutely nails are the little guys. The minor characters, even in the books, who just absolutely come to life when given a tiny bit of screen time are what sets Game of Thrones apart.

The plot of House Stark vs. House Lannister boils over even more, with NED STARK making the drastic (and ultimately fatal) move while occupying the IRON THRONE as his friend the King goes hunting. Across the Narrow Sea, VISERYS finally gets the respect he deserves from KHAL DROGO, and, in the North, ROBB STARK gets his first taste of battle defending BRAN from some WILDLINGS. Some heady goings on, sure, but to me the best part of “A Golden Crown” was the story of the lack-witted turnkey named MORD.

Last episode, we saw TYRION LANNISTER put into the “sky cells” of the EYRIE, the three-walled dungeon with the sloping floor that looks out into the nothingness of a several hundred foot drop. (I have to amend my previous observation: the floors are indeed sloped. Another victory for the show’s creators.) Tyrion is put in jail by a fat ugly man with a terrible scar down his face, who cackles with delight at the Imp’s plight and beats him with a small blackjack. Cruelly played by Ciaran Birmingham, the guard is a disgusting and brutal man who loves his job of tormenting the prisoners of his LADY ARRYN.

At the start of “A Golden Crown,” we learn this jailor’s name. Tyrion calls for Mord after nearly rolling off the edge of his cell in his sleep, and there follows an almost comical scene of the sly-witted Imp trying to bribe the simpleton. Mord only knows what’s right in front of him, and the promise of gold in the future takes a few moments to sink in. After a few Lannister catch-phrases, and some beatings, Mord finally agrees to give a message to Lysa Arryn in exchange for all the gold Tyrion can muster. It seems a bit overmuch to pay for a mere message, but Tyrion is cleverly buying an ally in enemy territory. After the transaction, Mord will do whatever he can to keep Tyrion alive to get that gold, of which the Imp is very much aware.

(Seriously though, how many times are we going to hear “A Lannister always pays his debts” before we actually hear the official motto of the House? Maybe it’s because “Hear me roar” is a pretty lame catch phrase given modern connotations. So fierce!)

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The duel between SER VARDIS EGEN and the commoner BRONN for the life of Tyrion was pretty fun to watch, taking place as it does before the stuck-up lords and ladies of the Eyrie. But I loved that when it was done, Tyrion strode up to Ser RODRIK CASSEL and demanded his possessions returned. I thought for a moment that he was referring to the Valyrian steel dagger, but Cassel tosses the pouch of gold to the Imp which in turn goes directly to Mord. The debt is paid. The small story arc of the minor character is complete.

The reason I’m highlighting the story of Mord is that the show could have abandoned his character altogether. In the first novel, Mord’s name only appears a handful of times and has no bearing on the overall plot. A lesser production would have made the jailor a nameless, featureless character. Tyrion could have made his demands to a closed door and HBO wouldn’t have had to work so hard to hire an actor who not only looks the part of the mean jailor, but delivers an excellent performance. Instead of faking it, the show’s creators made the decision to stay true to Martin’s works whenever possible, and that means the audience gets the benefit of a fully realized world and interesting character studies like the fat, unpleasant Mord.

I know that Mord does have a role to play in book four, but that’s a long time from now. Here’s hoping that the show is still going strong for a fourth season, and that the creators choose to use Ciaran Birmingham to play Mord again, because he was just awesome.

Mord is not the only minor character that I’ve been impressed with in this series. HODOR, the large servant of Bran Stark, only gets a single shot in this episode, but his happy portrayal as another dim-wit who can only say the word “Hodor” is spot on so far. I can’t wait for the saddle to be modified so Bran can ride Hodor and begin to feel comparatively autonomous again. SEPTA MORDANE‘s catty relationship with the teenaged SANSA STARK has been really fun to watch. She serves as a sounding board for the characterization of Sansa, but the Septa does so by being equal parts Mary Poppins, Martha Stewart and Meryl Streep from Devil Wears Prada. SYRIO FOREL, ARYA‘s Braavosi dance instructor, looks a little different than I envisioned him (I think it’s the Jew-fro) but every time he says, “Just so,” I get a thrill from how true his performance feels. Lancel, the effete young Lannister who’s ever serving KING BOB more wine, is about to commit the most heinous crime and eventually get to bed his older cousin as a reward, but his sniveling and Prince Valium haircut have been perfect. All of these minor characters feel authentic and each adds flavor to the series.

Even characters imagined for the show have been entertaining. ROZ, the red-haired prostitute from Winterfell who has been screwing THEON GREYJOY, departs for KING’S LANDING, effectively ending her tenure as the “exposition whore.” Her scenes were created to provide someone for Theon to talk to other than Robb Stark, but she did so in a way that made my wife remark how great a character she was to watch.

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To be honest, the only minor characters that I feel have been short-changed are the direwolves. After getting a lot of attention in “The Kingsroad,” the wolves have been nearly ignored. In my mind, the direwolves are why the Stark children are such great characters and by leaving out the special pets of each child, an important part of their psyche is missing from the portrayal. I understand that bringing animals to the production increases costs, but the creators missed a golden opportunity to show Grey Wind and Summer in the fight with the Wildings in this last episode. Do we even know the wolves’ names by this point? Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing Robb with Grey Wind. Will we know why Robb Stark is such a fearsome combatant in season two if he never has his direwolf with him?

I’m also worried about BERIC DONDARRION. The Lightning Lord was originally introduced during the Hand’s Tournament, but in “A Golden Crown” he’s called out of the blue by Ned Stark to chase down SER GREGOR CLEGANE. I suppose with so many other threads, stories and characters to introduce, letting the audience know about Dondarrion was a small concern seeing as he only becomes truly important after he is killed (the first time) and founds the Brotherhood Without Banners. More troubling is the lack of an appearance by Thoros of Myr. The Red Priest would have been a great way to show the differences in the faiths of Westeros, and the flaming sword could have been a fun spectacle during the tournament. He’s supposed to go with Dondarrion, so maybe we’ll see him when Arya finds the Brotherhood, but it won’t likely be until season three. Meeting Thoros of Myr now would have done wonders for the audience recognizing the Brotherhood later.

The scene of Ned Stark sitting on the Iron Throne and meting out the King’s Justice was cringe worthy, just as it was reading the book. Stark is trying to do too much, too fast, and he is clearly manipulated into the harsh decision by LITTLEFINGER. Despite the realization of JOFFREY‘s blonde hair coupled with knowing “the seed is strong,” I thought there could have been a little more lead up to Ned’s decision to take the course he did, because it really is the first time we see him use his influence so strongly. Every event that occurs after is affected by Stark’s decision in this scene, making it the climax of the season. He can’t go back. Eddard Stark’s fate is sealed after he denounces the Lannisters in public.

After his actions on the throne, Ned Stark puts the blade that cuts off his own head into SER ILYN PAYNE‘s hand. Damn those bloody, honorable Starks.

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